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By Benjamin Aviv

Today it rains in Jerusalem.  This rain has not stopped me from really appreciating how well my first week has gone in the state of Israel! I began my time here in Israel spending a day with my cousin and his family who live in Jerusalem. Although, for most of that day I was jet lagged and really tired, so I slept a lot. However, the food I ate in that day was really good home cooked food.

Day One at Hebrew University I am the last one to my suite because my cousin and I, along with a language barrier that I hope to be able to completely overcome by the end of the semester, got lost on where to drop me off. The dorm is really nice, each person has their own room. After settling in they gave us a campus tour beginning with the walk from the student village to the main campus. (כפר הםטודנטים). On the main campus they showed  us the two different areas in which there are beautiful views of the city.

Day Two was the first day of Winter Ulpan, in which I began in Aleph 6 - which is the highest level of the beginning level of Ulpan. Ulpan is intensive Hebrew. However, on Day 3 I tried out the Bet level and liked the fact that I could understand the lesson and it wasn’t all review so decided to permanently move into that class.

Anyway, the first two days are what have set the tone for the semester because they went well, and the first week has been a really good week. I am just excited for the opportunity to get to experience the culture of Jerusalem, the culture of Israel in general and the culture will be experienced through my lens as a student for the first time in Israel.

For the next blog, look forward to hearing about my trip that I will be taking to a local kibbutz for a chocolate tasting, along with the classes I will be taking and whether or not I will add to my experience abroad in Israel by seeing what it is like to intern and be a student in Jerusalem.

Signing off,

Ben Aviv.

By AshleyLe

"Today, we finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.  This is nothing more, or less, than a recognition of reality.  It is also the right thing to do.  It’s something that has to be done."

When President Donald Trump declared these words on December 6, millions of Jerusalem, Palestine, and Arab residents cried out in response. The following 72 hours became the long Days of Rage, with men, women, and children assembled together to mark the beginning of something else, of something more. They were fired up. They were ready to fight. They were not afraid to make their outrage heard.

In the midst of their cries of pain, their calls for justice, and their longing for peace, I witnessed so much more. I knew there was something greater than just what I saw with my eyes, like a magnet that kept pulling me back.

Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ according to Biblical text, was brighter than normal. But instead of the streets decking out in Christmas lights and decorations, it slowly became battle grounds. Bethlehem's main street was covered in fire and tear gas. The roads turned black, the city turned grey, and its people turned red. More than 5 hours after the beginning of the first day of rage, thousands of Palestinians were still on the street. Despite extreme pain caused by tear gas, they knew better than to give up. To many Palestinians, Christians and Muslims alike, there was a need to scream, to demonstrate, and to fight, in order to win back hope.

...continue reading "Our Days of Rage"

By AshleyLe

Truth be told, I didn't start celebrating Thanksgiving until I came to college, when a friend of mine invited me to his family for Thanksgiving break. Growing up in Vietnam, and even after I immigrated to the United States, I never knew why this holiday is important, aside from the lavish festivity of food.

This year, however, is different, in so many ways. Perhaps, it is because my host university organized an Israeli way of celebrating Thanksgiving, where the turkey and gravy mash potato were replaced by a fancy reception and a wild dance floor. Perhaps, it is because for the first time in my life, I felt as if I'm recognized and treated as an American, and thus the meaning of Thanksgiving just became so much more to me. And perhaps, it is because for the past two years, I have been spending it with my best friend, in the most traditional way possible, and thus the separation during the holiday season brings forth a feeling of emptiness and incomplete.

Spending Thanksgiving, or any other major holiday, abroad can be challenging. While the saying "home is where the heart is" could be said in these situations, it is nevertheless still difficult for foreign students to enjoy the atmosphere when they have yet to find home. And given that celebrating Thanksgiving is an "American thing", the challenge of finding home during this holiday becomes less realistic.

But in the end, Thanksgiving is all about reflections and giving thanks. It's the chance for us to pause and look back at what we have done in order to be reminded that we are capable to do so much more. It's about being thankful for what have been given to us, so that we will use our blessings in giving back to others. It's about realizing the most important things in our lives, and vow to continue holding on to what makes us better and stronger everyday.

...continue reading "Thanksgiving When Abroad"

Today marks the half-way point in my study abroad journey. In exactly 2 months, I will be boarding my flight back to Washington D.C. While I look forward to return home, my time in Israel has also been filled with moments that I could never forget.

So, as I consider myself more of a local than a tourist now, I am going to reflect on the #OnlyInIsrael moments that have left me excited, fascinated, or amazed.

Shabbat Shalom: My first and major adjustment comes from the fact that on the 24 hours of Shabbat, Jerusalem almost completely shuts down. I have come to terms and appreciate this tradition, but the challenge of how to become a part of this observance is still a challenge that I have yet to overcome.

Airport security: I would never, ever, forget how tight airport security is in Israel. Throughout my life, I have been in more than 10 different airports across the world. However, Israel is hands down the strictest. Given the fact that I was placed in a special list, the time it takes for me from my taxi to the flight gate is twice that of a normal passenger. To be exact, it was 3 hours.

Diversity in languages: Hebrew is the main language. But like every other Westernized country, English is widely known. In addition, the Arab population shares their Arabic in big cities like Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv. On almost every form of public transportation and services, instructions can be found in all 3 languages.

...continue reading "My #OnlyInIsrael Impressions"

This past weekend, my university took the exchange students into the desert, where we spent 3 days with a Kibbutz community in Ketura, Israel.

In the most basic definition, a Kibbutz is a collective community in Israel based on agriculture, manufacture, and/or environmental science. They choose to live together far away from city life; they emphasize the value of sharing together; and they work for the collective good of each community.

When I was first introduced to the concept of a Kibbutz, I found myself quick to question the motive behind living away from society. I though that it would be a disservice to both themselves and to the larger society if they worked for their own communities, kept to their own communities, and stayed on their communities (typically in the desert or mountain) for the majority of their time without reaching out elsewhere.  For me, the idea of staying far away from the city and modern society was unheard of and hard to accept.

This weekend, however, proved to me otherwise. While I have come to the realization that Kibbutz life is only for those who would be willing to make the commitment, I also learned that in staying and working together as a community, Kibbutz members also contribute to the larger society in ways that we can't as an individual. In Ketura, I learned that together, these Kibbutz members build a system of reusable energy, where waste materials, such as bread, feces, or anything else, can be turned into electricity. This incredible system is then introduced and used as an energy source in lower-income villages in Ethiopia.

...continue reading "Weekend at the Kibbutz"

By AshleyLe

When I was in Munich during my 3-week vacation, my Nikon camera stopped working without any prior sign. After trying on a few batteries, a glimpse of hope surfaced when a little light on the LCD control panel lit up. I smiled in relief, thinking that where there's a will, there's a way.

Back to Israel, I traveled from Jerusalem to Tel-Aviv to the best camera store in the State of Israel. I wanted my camera to work, because to me, it meant so much more than just a photo equipment. The journey included an expedited conversational Hebrew language lesson, an exploration of an Israeli city that resembles more to European countries, and an eye-opening discovery into the differences in Israeli society. All of which I am still processing.

Today, I will only write about my camera, and its incredible impact on my life from California, to Washington DC, and into the world.

After 3 weeks in the camera repair lab, I finally received a phone call informing that the technicians were not able to repair my camera. I was heartbroken and disappointed. For more than 4 years, my camera has accompanied me from the very beginning of my storyteling journey, and led me through life-changing opportunities. While it might not make a lot of sense, I truly believe that I would not have found my passion, my purpose, and my place in the world without my camera.

...continue reading "Through The Lens"

"On the 29th November, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel; the General Assembly required the inhabitants of Eretz-Israel to take such steps as were necessary on their part for the implementation of that resolution. This recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their State is irrevocable." - Israel Proclamation of Independence, 1948

I grew up in a Christian household, and I have always been proud to identify myself as a Christ follower.

Throughout my childhood, I looked up to my father, who served as a pastor and a missionary. I fearfully learned from my mother, a respected religion teacher in my church. I vividly remember learning to read when I was just 4 years-old, with my first reading exercise being Psalm 1. I spent my pre-teen stage well connected with church friends, and shaped by Biblical figures and Bible stories.

When I moved to the United States in 2010, I was terrified of everything, from having to learn the new language, to being shorter, smaller, and different from everyone around my age. In that midst of fear, however, I found peace, love, and support from a faith community that I had just been acquainted with. When I moved to Washington D.C. on my own, I once again found a church community that strengthens, empowers and love me unconditionally. My life has always been on the move, but I have always had a community. I have always found my community.

...continue reading "A Simply Complicated Jerusalem Faith Story"

By AshleyLe

I will be honest here, I don't like staying still.

As a millennial who happens to be attending George Washington University, my schedules in the past two years tend to look similar to that of the rest of my classmates. In addition to the full load of classes, I still managed to squeeze in internships, volunteer services, student organizations, jobs, and student government. And while it sounds impossible, we (GW students and I) have gotten used to this routine of being on the move constantly. Thus, the concept of rest becomes somewhat strange and unnecessary. After all, how can you put resting on your resume, right?

When I arrived to Israel a month and a half ago, one of the first challenging adjustment was the observance of Shabbat. As the state of Israel is established as a Jewish state, its laws are rooted deeply in religious values. The observance of the Shabbat, the fifth of the Ten Commandments, begins at sunset on Friday evenings until an hour after sunset on Saturday evenings. During this time, businesses, public transportation, and almost every restaurants are closed. Religious Jews visit the Synagogue to pray and sing, while families gather for a festive Shabbat dinner.

Unfortunately, as a non-Jewish and study-abroad student, my experience with Shabbat does not revolve around festive Shabbat dinners or family gathering. Living in the holy city of Jerusalem, the challenge to find open businesses is almost impossible to achieve. With the closure of public transportation, shops, and restaurants, I found the 24 hours of Shabbat to be lengthy and lifeless. I felt trapped in my dorm, and unproductive as I am unable to explore more of Israel.

...continue reading "Observing Shabbat, Learning to Rest"

By AshleyLe

In the past two weeks, I had the exciting opportunity of traveling across Europe. Starting in London and wrapping up in Amsterdam, I found myself in 6 countries, 9 cities, 6 buses, 4 hostels, and countless of restaurants. But most importantly, I was surrounded by the presence of the GW community once again. Whether if I was in London, Paris, Madrid, or Vienna, I was welcomed and hosted with generosity and hospitality from GW students. So while the 2017 Colonials Weekend is quickly approaching back at home, I am honored to be a part of the global GW community abroad.

In reflection of my time constantly on the move in the past 2 weeks, I realized a few important lessons that would last a lifetime:

  • Be a part of a community, and stay engaged in your community

Community here doesn’t simply limit in just the GW community. While I was blessed to have been welcomed and hosted by many GW students in different European countries, I also found myself in the presence of those with the same faith and common interest. In Paris, I found home at Hillsong Church. In London, my heart is full while attending a Chelsea FC football match. While the definition is vague and is always different, it will almost always be true that a community is where you find a home away from home. The idea of staying engaged in my community pushes me to continue reaching out to my friends currently living abroad. Checking in and sharing our experiences together help us to learn from each other while strengthening the community and friendship bond.

...continue reading "What 17 Days Across Europe Taught Me"

By AshleyLe


The question that I've had to answer no less than 50 times, to the point where I have memorized how to answer in 3 different languages.

No doubt, Israel is a fascinating country. It is perhaps the only country where peace and war exist together, or where armed soldiers in uniform march down the city streets while also dancing through the night in Jerusalem's most popular clubs. Israel is not my country; Jerusalem is not my city; but surprisingly, they have become my home.

As a daughter of Christian missionaries, I remember learning how to read, in both Vietnamese and English, by reading the Bible. Since I was 4 years old, I have always imagined myself roaming through the streets of Israel, where I can picture the scene of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, the fall of Jericho, or the walk to Jesus' crucifixion on Via Dolorosa. As I got older and became more aware of international politics, I find myself not only interested, but saddened by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as other tensions within the region. Subsequently, Israel became my "promise land", where I made a commitment to myself that I would visit soon.

...continue reading "So, why Israel?"